Episode 27: Decolonising consultancy: building a rooted network of ethical values-driven consultants. Kate Newman (INTRAC) interviewed.

About this episode:

In this week’s episode, we talk to Kate Newman, INTRAC CEO, about the organisation’s shift in order to respond to the changes happening in the international development sector. She talks of realising that rather than exclusively responding to each organisation’s needs, they realised they could be more impactful by taking on an ecosystem approach. INTRAC’s goal is to build a network of ethical values-driven consultants, where local context and lived experience is prioritised. This strengthens civil society and promotes locally-led development, as well as empowering consultants within their work. Kate Newman speaks about understanding decolonisation as a verb, as well as a commitment to processes of critical reflection, learning and unlearning.
Episode 27: Full Transcript

​​The Power Shift: Decolonising Development

Episode 27

Decolonising consultancy: Building a rooted network of ethical values-driven consultants. Kate Newman (INTRAC) interviewed.

Kate Newman: [00:00:00] What we’re hoping is that through really building this network of people, they will help us give proper meaning and depth and understanding of that concept through practice. And I think that you can talk about things in a very abstract way, but we need to learn from the sort of rooted practice of our network. And if you ask me in a year’s time, I might come back with a much better answer of what that looks like. I think that by taking a sort of feminist and anti racist approach, there’ll be some of the sort of ways of thinking that will underline it. And also by opening up new ideas about knowledge and experience and what’s valued. 

Kate Bird: Hello, I’m Professor Kate Bird, Director of the Development Hub, and I’d like to introduce this episode of the PowerShift Decolonising Development. In this week’s episode, we talk to Kate Newman, INTRAC’s CEO,and she describes the changes that INTRAC have embraced to build a network of values driven consultants where local context and lived experience is prioritised. Listen on for more.

Welcome to the Power Shift Decolonising Development, the podcast [00:01:00] series seeking to bring together thinkers, practitioners, activists to share ideas, inspire change, and identify tools for practical action. I’m Professor Kate Bird, a socio economist and director of the Development Hub, and today I’m talking to Kate Newman, INTRAC’s CEO, about development consultancy.

Kate has worked in international development for over 25 years as part of local civil society in Mexico, for large international NGOs, including ActionAid and ChristianAid, as an independent consultant, and as an academic. So she’s multi talented and has kept many balls in the air in her past. She then joined INTRAC as CEO in April 2022.

Throughout all the roles that she’s taken, she’s championed the importance of participatory and rights based approaches, focused on understanding and shifting power, listened to and learned from the knowledge, insights, perspective, and aspirations of people living in poverty, collaborating to ensure these knowledges are influential for development policy and practice.

She describes herself as a feminist and anti [00:02:00] racist and works to ensure her leadership approach builds on these commitments. INTRAC, an organisation focused on strengthening civil society, particularly through supporting civil society organisations and helping them develop, engage with others, and do what they do best, is going through a transformation process, and Kate is at the forefront of that change, supporting the organisation to make difficult choices as it goes through the messy process of transformation. And I thought it’d be really interesting to talk to Kate today about that work. But first, let me introduce Nompilo, my guest co host today. Dr. Nompilo Ndlovu is a expatriate Zimbabwean living in South Africa, where she teaches and leads an organisation supporting international students studying in South Africa. She’s an oral historian who has worked throughout the continent of Africa as a researcher and consultant working for bilateral, multilateral donors, NGOs, and other great people like that. We met through a research [00:03:00] project together and have been firm friends and colleagues ever since. She’s also a Senior Associate at the Development Hub. I’m going to pass straight over now to Nompilo to ask the first question. Nompilo, over to you.

Nompilo Ndlovu: Thank you, Kate. What a boisterous introduction. It’s wonderful. Hello, Kate Newman. Can we get right into the questions? INTRAC has just finalised its new strategic framework, which focuses on INTRAC’s contribution to transforming and strengthening the ecosystem of civil society support.

Could you talk us through your strategic plan and its key pillars?

Kate Newman: Hi, hi Kate, hi Nompilo, lovely to be here and to meet you. I thought in answering this it might be helpful just to let you know a little bit more about INTRAC’s history, just to give a bit of context. So we were set up just over 30 years ago, I think at a time when sort of international NGOs were on the ascendancy.

They were starting to increase in their importance in international development. But also the Berlin wall had just come down, Eastern Europe was moving from sort of communist states and thinking about the role of civil society. So it was sort [00:04:00] of a time when there was lots of talk about civil society.

And INTRAC was set up as a sort of practitioner focused organisation to really help practitioners develop in their work in civil society, bridging some of the theoretical discussions with reflecting on practice. And, to do that, we were involved in lots of learning initiatives, practitioner type research, and also lots of training.

And when I meet people today, a lot of people who work in the international development sector know INTRAC because they went on a training early in their career, or maybe they use our practitioner materials in their work. Throughout that time, we’ve been really focused on the how side, how best to support civil society organisations.

But then sort of wind forwards 30 years, if you like, when I joined last year, I think we’d had a period of lots of change in the world around us. We were just coming out of COVID and we’d become over time sort of more and more influenced by the consultancy opportunities that were out there, rather than thinking about what our agenda was and what change we were trying to contribute to.

So [00:05:00] we’d sort of become largely consultancy funded and most of our work was driven by what was being commissioned by the international aid sector, whether that’s international NGOs or donors or trusts and foundations. And a little bit through sort of national civil society in contexts across Africa and Asia and Central Asia and Eastern Europe, but more so driven from the Global North.

And so, I came in and we sort of had a bit of a reflection process around refocusing on our core mission, on thinking about how we as an organisation responding to the changes in the sector, how might we evolve our practice thinking about responding to some of the deeper understanding that’s around now around structural racism around decolonisation, the calls to shift the power. And so we took a step back and reconsidered all of that. And we started engaging with actors across the sector, asking them what they thought that the pressing challenges and key opportunities for civil society and civil society organisations were, what they thought would be different in the sector in five years time and how INTRAC might contribute.

So [00:06:00] I felt like that background’s important to understand part of where we’re going in our new strategy. As I said, a lot of our work had become quite consultancy driven, and we’re a small organisation, we just have 20 staff, but a lot of the staff deliver consultancy, and we realised that in that work, while we might be being really effective with one organisation, we were only sort of responding to whatever that organisation’s needs were, and we could be much more impactful, I guess, if we took more of an ecosystem approach. So we’re now thinking about how can we best offer support into transforming and strengthening the ecosystem of civil society support. We think that support is really important for civil society organisations, like any organisation goes through processes of change, the context that they’re working in changes, the leadership changes, the opportunities come and go, and having that support to navigate those sorts of experiences can be really important. What’s our role in building that ecosystem of support?

So for our strategy, we’ve identified three external [00:07:00] strategic goals and one internal one. So our first sort of most important, if you like, external goal is to establish a framework for ethical and values driven consultancy. And I think we’ll talk a bit more about what we mean by that. The second one is to build a locally rooted, globally connected network of ethical and values driven practitioners.

The third is to align with movements that are calling to shift the power and to support international NGOs and national actors to reimagine their roles and relationships and development. So there are three external goals and then internally, we recognise that to be able to deliver this we need to go through quite a change ourselves.

And so we’re really thinking about what does it mean for our own sort of organisational culture and practice to become more network led, to have a culture of equity, diversity, and inclusivity, and what type of business model would enable that. So that’s the sort of framework for our strategy, if you like, and then in terms of delivery, we’re thinking about our four core areas of work, which are consultancy, training, research [00:08:00] and learning, and network development.

And maybe I’ll talk a bit more about those later as we go through the other questions.

Nompilo Ndlovu: Thank you for that comprehensive context. You sound like you’re at the forefront of really amazing and impactful work. Having had worked in the development space for a while, I like that you spoke a lot about INTRAC going through a reflection process, refocusing, reimagining the mission, and there’s a phrase that you use that really jumped on me, taking on an ecosystem support approach to civil society.

 The second question actually leads on from that to say, having shared your external goals and your internal goal, amongst them you spoke about ethical values driven consultancies. So, as you plan to build a global network of ethical values driven consultants and to support them through a process of accompaniment, please tell our listeners and viewers what INTRAC means by ethical values driven consultancies.

It’s a bit of a mouthful… 

Kate Newman: Yeah, it is, isn’t it? And we’ve played around with the term quite a lot. This is where we’ve landed at the moment. It might be that it needs to evolve further, so it’s easier to say. [00:09:00] But the reason that we’re calling it ethical and values driven is partly because we’ve always talked about being a values driven consultancy.

We are, as I said, largely a consultancy funded organisation, but we are a charity. We’re not for profit. And for us, values have been really important in our approach to consultancy. And we’ve developed our organisational values based on what we think are most important in that consultant’s process. So that includes a focus on change and transformation, putting people at the center of the work, taking a collaborative approach, working with integrity and thinking about utility. There’s no point doing consultancy work if what you’re producing isn’t useful for the organisation that’s receiving the consultancy, if you like.

And then the final area of importance to us is building equitable, inclusive and diverse practices, understandings, values throughout our work. So that’s the sort of values driven part. The reason we’ve brought in the idea of ethical, is we think we should go a bit further. So we’re now talking about ethical values driven [00:10:00] consultancy with three dimensions.

The first one is to think about who the consultant is and to really think who’s best placed to deliver this consultancy, what knowledges are needed. And in our view, too often, there are certain attributes that are prioritised when organisations are commissioning consultancy, they might prioritise good spoken and written English.

They might prioritise a global experience. And we’re not saying that these things aren’t important, but we’re saying that other things equally and in some cases more, more important. So things like deep contextual understanding, ability to speak the language of whichever organisation you’re working with, which can enable a conversation to take place where participants are able to communicate directly and the nuance and meaning is really understood.

Also a deep understanding of context through lived experience can really help in recognising power dynamics or understand sort of things that have happened recently that might be important for that organisation and understand why they might be relevant or important. So as I said, the first point is who the consultant [00:11:00] is and their knowledge.

So we think that’s really important in terms of ethical consultancy and in thinking about who the consultant is, it’s from an ecosystem approach. It’s also about actively investing in these consultants in diverse contexts. If you’re prioritising those knowledges and experience, you’re also helping to develop a local or a national consultancy market which can work alongside other civil society actors to strengthen the national civil society if you like and we think that that’s really important for locally led development.

The second aspect of our ethical framework is thinking about the approach and this sort of links back to the values. So in our experience in INTRAC, as I said, we place a lot of emphasis on values driven consultancy, and we have these organisational values, but what we think is most important in consultancy is being able to build a relationship of trust.

So if you can’t, if you don’t invest time in that relationship, then probably what people are telling you or the way you’re listening and what you’re hearing, will miss out some of the nuance, we’ll miss out some of the really important things, [00:12:00] and they might not trust you to say “actually this is the issue that we really need to focus on” and your consultancy could become quite superficial.

We think that that relationship of trust is really important so that you can take the terms of reference as a starting point for the conversation, but not an end point for the consultancy, and really get to the heart of the matter. We also think it’s important to have trust in yourself, and that you should believe that you are the best tool, if you like, in your consultancy, you might have loads of technical knowledge and experience, but actually it’s about you trusting your own experiences, your knowledge, your insight, your character of being able to listen attentively.

And we think that these sorts of things really take consultancy from delivering something that’s written on a piece of paper to a sort of active process of learning and listening together and a collaborative process. And then I guess the final sort of aspect that we’d prioritise in thinking about that approach is also thinking about yourself and your own sort of boundaries, your strengths and paying attention to your well being in that consultancy, because it can be [00:13:00] that you have to have quite difficult conversations. You might need to challenge a client. You need to sort of work things through. And if you’re going to bring the best of yourself into that consultancy, you also need to pay attention to your own needs.

The third and final aspect of our ethical consultancy framework is the intention of the consultancy and the impact that that has. So going back to our aim to contribute to effective, resilient, impactful civil society and to shifting power in the aid system. This means considering how work and processes themselves are anti racist, feminist, decolonial and therefore how the process can contribute to locally determined and led development. And we think that to do that, we need to think about the language and terminology we use, whose knowledge is valued, how that knowledge is amplified. And we need to ask how the work challenges some of the dominant notions of quality or authenticity or legitimacy and accountability.

And so really actively leaning into those consultancy opportunities that open up space to be able to shift power [00:14:00] and contribute to the bigger picture of locally led development. For us, in some ways at the moment, this is the hardest area because as a consultancy organisation, we’re dependent on what is commissioned.

And I think that’s something that we’re going to discuss a bit more later, but we’re just trying to think through how do we prioritise certain work and invest resource in certain types of work? What do we think about who we’re taking commissions from and who’s defining that consultancy? And all of that contributes to the intention and its potential impact.

Nompilo Ndlovu: Thank you for highlighting the role of South-led development work. Such a key focal area, which is often not given the right kind of space and time. And I also enjoy your discussing languaging and challenging dominant notions around development. You have also spoken about ethical consultancy, referred to decolonising consultancy, or you’ve spoken about the need to decolonise consultancy. Can you talk a bit more about what you mean by this, noting that you’ve already started making some examples, and where INTRAC fits in?

Kate Newman: Yeah, so we’ve had a lot of discussions among staff about whether or not we [00:15:00] can claim to be decolonising consultancy. And, on the one hand, and I sort of credit this thinking to an ex colleague of mine, he used to remind me that decolonising is a verb, it’s not an adjective. It’s something that is happening that you need to be active in thinking about. And so I think for us at INTRAC, because we are asking difficult questions and we’re committing to our own processes of critical reflection, of learning and unlearning, and by investing in a sort of new organisational culture and practice and mindset.

I think that we’re taking on some of the aspects of decolonisation and that process of being critical, I guess. We’re also thinking about our own power and how we use our power and what we prioritise in terms of knowledge, and the extent to which we can celebrate and build from different perspectives and ways of being, and we’re investing in our ability to be curious and to have doubt and therefore be open to new or different ways of thinking and to be reflexive. So all of those sorts of practices, I think, contribute to that action of decolonising. [00:16:00] But I also am aware that decolonising also includes an intention of redress and repair and reparations for historic injustice.

And because of that, I think at the moment our focus is on the building of ethical and values driven consultancy, and we think that that might lay the foundations or contribute to the possibility for repair, but we’re not sure if we can say that we’re able to really deliver decolonised consultancy because of who we are, because of our own history, and because the staff at the moment are all based in the UK, we’re a mainly white staffing body, and we’re not sure if we have the sort of depth and diversity, I guess, of perspectives and understandings that would really do justice to a movement to decolonise.

So I wanted to be clear that we’re saying we’re doing ethical and values driven consultancy and we think that that might be useful in a wider process of decolonisation, but that we’re not claiming to do decolonised consultancy. In terms of your question about what is decolonised consultancy, I don’t have a good answer.

And I suppose that’s [00:17:00] not the best thing to say in an interview is it. But what we’re hoping is that through really building this network of people, they will help us give proper meaning and depth and understanding of that concept through practice. And I think that you can talk about things in a very abstract way, but we need to learn from the sort of rooted practice of our network.

And if you ask me in a year’s time, I might come back with a much better answer of what that looks like. I think that by taking a sort of feminist and anti racist approach, there’ll be some of the sort of ways of thinking that will underline it. And also by opening up new ideas about knowledge and experience and what’s valued.

 But yeah, we’re not sure if we can say we’re actually decolonised. I think the other thing to say is that decolonisation involves a relationship or lots of relationships, both historic and current day relationships. And for INTRAC, we see our responsibility in relation to decolonisation as building the sort of cadre of people and the possibility of locally rooted ethical and values [00:18:00] based consultancy working on the supply side, if you like, in consultancy.

But we also see our responsibility as working on the demand side and engaging with people who commission consultancy and asking them about what they think about their commissioning, challenging them to think about their role differently. And that it might be something in that relationship, which really enables consultancy to decolonise. 

Nompilo Ndlovu: Yeah, it’s quite a process. I hear. But as you said, it’s a doing action. Yeah, walking through the process. So, yeah, thank you for sharing that. Could you talk us through how you will approach building this network and what INTRAC’s role will be in supporting both the network and individual consultants?

Kate Newman: Yeah, so at the moment we have relationships with about 150 consultants across the globe. These relationships or the links with individual consultants have mainly been established through a particular work opportunity. And so we’ve built a relationship around that. And I’d say the relationship’s been largely transactional because it’s been about a piece of work.

And there [00:19:00] haven’t really been relationships horizontally for the individual consultants, it’s all been very much with us at the centre, if you like. And that’s meant that while maybe an individual consultant has been able to influence a piece of work, they haven’t had much voice or say in influencing our overall thinking and our practice.

As part of this new strategy, we’re imagining this network that’s locally rooted, made up of ethical values driven consultants that are rooted in national civil society with lived experience of the context and local knowledge and understanding, but also globally connected, so that they’re working together to disrupt power, to blend local and global knowledges and experiences, and to strengthen understanding and practice.

And to do that, we’re thinking both about catalyzing the network, but also weaving the network. So catalyzing connections between people who are already in our network and weaving with other networks or collectives of consultants who share similar visions and values. So we spent some time thinking about what would a network offer be?

Why would [00:20:00] people want to engage with us? And we’ve talked to our current consultants and asked them what their interests are. And we’ve identified four different dimensions that people say they’re interested in. So the first one we’ve called brokering relationships. And what we hear quite a lot from consultants, especially consultants that are based in different African countries, is that they generate a good living, they do some bits of work with a range of different organisations locally, but they struggle maybe to take on some of the more strategic consultancy that involves working across multiple national contexts or different sectors of work, or different areas of work, because they’re on their own, and they might be quite isolated.

And so what seems to be really important in terms of a network is to be able to link with other consultants that bring different experiences, different knowledges, whether that’s in a neighboring context or in a completely distinct geographical context. Often the people that commission in consultancy are working in multiple countries.

So building those links between people [00:21:00] in different countries can be really important in order to take on that more complex consultancy. Or it might be that they’ve got really good skills in monitoring evaluation and learning, but don’t feel that they’ve got the skills in organisational development, for example.

So bringing that sort of thing together. The second area, and this links back to our understanding of ethical and values driven consultancy is professional development support. So the other thing that consultants say to us is that it can be a bit lonely being a consultant and that you might be a really reflective individual and spend time sort of thinking about what they learned through this particular consultancy experience.

But you don’t necessarily have all the sort of interactions and stimulus the way that being inside an organisation can support your professional development, so it can be helpful to link with others to make sense of those experiences, but equally, we’re noticing with consultants, especially consultants maybe that have only worked in their national context and then are taking on work with a global actor, that they might not have the confidence in their [00:22:00] abilities to speak out in certain contexts, or they might not know how you negotiate around the terms of reference or have a challenging conversation and give critical feedback or tell the client, actually, you’ve just got that wrong. This isn’t what you need at all. And so we’re thinking about professional development around being an effective consultant and taking in some of our previous experience on values driven consultancy and consultants for change, which is one of our programs of work.

The third area, and this links a bit to what I was just saying, is peer to peer learning, exchange and community building. And we have heard from people that it’d be really helpful to have communities of practice to think about what is the latest thinking on feminist leadership or indigenous organisational development or climate resilient organisations and how can we learn together and exchange ideas and really be at the forefront of thinking about that.

And then our final area is collective analysis and insight and collective action. And we think that consultants have a massive [00:23:00] opportunity because they do interact with so many organisations that operate in similar or distinct contexts, but there isn’t a sort of easy way to always share that learning that you’re having, whether that’s sharing that learning back for practice, so that people have stimulated and using really up to date thinking around how to best support organisations in their work, or whether it’s using that sort of insight and evidence to influence some of the funders or the partners of civil society organisations and help take that learning into enabling better, more equitable partnership, for example.

So we see the network as a space for that. I think I’ve slightly gone off the question, but I’ll just finish by saying in terms of how we’re building the network, we’re thinking about that offer and how that’s most useful for individual consultants, the collectives of consultants and for other organisations that are working to support civil society.

And this goes back to our ecosystem approach. We don’t feel that everyone needs to join our network and be part of INTRAC, but we want to weave with all these other actors that are [00:24:00] also thinking about civil society in different ways and we recognise that of those four areas of our offer, different types of consultants or groups of consultants might be particularly interested in one area and less interested in the other.

So we’re just thinking about how we build that together.

Nompilo Ndlovu: Fair enough, I’ll now hand over to Kate to ask you the next set of questions.

Kate Bird: Thanks Nompilo. Well, first of all, Kate, I want to know where I can sign up, because what you’re doing sounds brilliant, and I want some of that. Before starting The Development Hub, I was an independent consultant for 14 years, so a lot of what you were talking about, despite being a privileged white woman based in the UK, a lot of what you were talking about in terms of the loneliness of consultancy and not having that chance for kind of continuous professional development, and struggling sometimes to negotiate or renegotiate contracts are all very familiar to me.

And when we’re thinking about negotiating power and the agency of the individual, I think of the term exit, voice and choice. So you can either leave or you can express yourself or you [00:25:00] can express a choice in terms of the situation and perhaps negotiate. But that requires a certain amount of position power.

And in thinking about consultants who often survive job to job and have no one minding their backs, they don’t have an organisation or the power of an organisation behind them. They are their brand. And if you blot your copybook, it can be very difficult because your reputation is everything.

And I can imagine if perhaps I was more at the beginning of my career and perhaps I felt more vulnerable about speaking truth to power. It’s quite difficult, I imagine, to behave in a truly decolonised way where your client is powerful or you perceive them as being powerful because we’re never quite sure about our level of power in the ecosystem and the value chain.

And we often, I think, underestimate the position power that we have. But I’m very interested by the kind of brokerage role that you describe and the way you’re talking about leveraging the power that INTRAC has as an organisation and as a brand and supporting a network of global expertise, [00:26:00] to actually not just upskill, but to have that collective action and an agency, to be able to shift thinking in the sector. I think that’s very powerful and very interesting. So moving on to my question, you’ve mentioned the need to engage with the wider development sector and you’ve talked in ecosystem terms and the fact that organisations and individuals working in development and humanitarian action are part of an ecosystem, and you’ve talked about particularly those who commission consultancy and the need for them to critically reflect on consultancy.

And also to challenge the dominant thinking about what a good consultant looks like and what good consultancy outputs and products look like. Could you tell us a little bit more about this and why you think this is necessary? And finally, what you think you might achieve or what you hope to achieve in this work?

Kate Newman: Yeah, I agree with everything you’ve just said, and I think you summarised everything I said really well and sounded much more articulate than I do, so thank you for that. While we’re focused more on the supply of consultants, there’s [00:27:00] no point building a community of practice and supporting individual consultants to value and grow in their own skills if we’re not also thinking about the demand side.

And how consultancy is commissioned holds an awful lot of power. I think generally, especially in the sort of international development sector, it’s the commissioner who sort of defines the terms of reference and that shapes the skills and knowledges that are prioritised. It shapes the expectations around the delivery and output.

And often it even talks in detail about the expectations around methodology, process, approach. There’s often a confusion, I think, in international development between the commissioner and the client, and there are assumptions that whoever is commissioning the consultancy is also the client, whereas we would argue that the client is the recipient of the consultancy, if you like, so that might be the same person that’s paying and decided it, or it might be their partner organisation, and often in international development, a global actor will commission consultancy for their local grantees or [00:28:00] partners.

And we’re really pushing to say, well, they’re the client. You might be commissioning it and they’re the client and make that distinction. I think often the people that are commissioning consultancy won’t have spent much time thinking about how their sort of prejudice and bias gets translated in the process.

So they might be doing amazing work supporting local civil society and really thinking about how they fund civil society, how they develop an equitable partnership, what the relationship looks like, what their role is. And then you introduce the consultancy process and it suddenly becomes this sort of standard procurement process that goes through a different side of organisational policy.

And as I said before, reinforces some of that power and expectation about what good looks like. So we think, and as you mentioned as well, we think we can use our sort of historic reputation and relationships to be asking the questions of the commissioners to say, well, what are you thinking about as you’re writing that terms of reference, who have you involved? Whose agenda is that, that piece of [00:29:00] consultancy serving? And what are you looking for in the consultant? Why do you think that knowledge and skills is the most important thing? How do you expect the output of this consultancy to be used?

What is the real purpose? And ask some of those critical questions. So with the hope, I guess, and intention that more commissioners will be thinking about what they’re doing in that process. And I think we’re starting to see a change in some areas. So I know we recently responded to a tender from the Ford Foundation that focused much more on who is the team, like what team are you offering and bringing together for the consultancy rather than any questions about methodology.

And I know Comic Relief have been putting quite a lot of effort thinking about how they’re localising consultancy and what that means to them. So I think there are some good examples, but there are still a lot of barriers to entry. And I suppose a lot of this mirrors some of the discussions that we’ve had in the UK and globally around equity, diversity, and inclusion and recruitment, just thinking about where are opportunities advertised, how a process is run, what’s written on the piece of paper [00:30:00] that means that it includes certain people and excludes other people.

And so we’re thinking about, how we could work with the organisations we already have a reputation with and a connection with to open up those processes. And if we were being successful, I guess we would see more terms of reference or calls for tender being done very differently, both in terms of the knowledge that they’re emphasising the sort of lived experience, the thinking about outputs, like, do you really need a report written in English?

Is that really going to be the most useful thing for your piece of consultancy? Or would it be more useful to have a video or a podcast like this, I guess, which communicates some of the ideas? Who are you hearing from? What’s the process of the consultancy that’s happening? And those sorts of things we would like to see more of.

I think the other thing, and this goes a bit to what you were just reflecting on, Kate, when you were talking about being earlier in your career, is we’re really thinking about our role in terms of our duty of care, I guess, to consultants. So if [00:31:00] we’re creating spaces and more opportunities for consultants in different contexts to deliver some of this consultancy work, what environments are we exposing them to and is it going to be safe for them and how? So I think as an early career consultant, you’ll have power relations that you’re having to negotiate. As a Black early career consultant, working with maybe a commissioner that’s based in the Global North and is White, those power relations are likely to be exacerbated and there’s likely to be historic trauma and structural racism that sort of really impacts on that space and your experience of it as well. So in terms of influencing both the sort of demand side for consultancy, but also thinking about our duty of care for consultants, we’re really also thinking about how do we make those spaces safe and how do we work with the organisations that are commissioning consultancy so that that interaction doesn’t just become another experience which could be reinforcing historic [00:32:00] injustices and racism.

Kate Bird: I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to anyone in consultancy who’s talked about duty of care to consultants. I mean, maybe that’s something that’s widely discussed and talked about in your part of the ecosystem. But it’s certainly new to me and it’s refreshing and really well valued because I think there’s quite a lot of abuse and quite a lot of bullying actually in the sector.

So I think an environment in which duty of care is thought about more widely would go a long way. I think that would be fantastic.

Reflecting on what you just said, one of the things that I was thinking about as you were talking is about information asymmetries and trust. And I think there’s actually very low trust between clients and consultants quite often, and between different parties in a value chain in development, whether that’s an international NGO and an in country partner or whether it’s a bilateral donor and a think tank or whoever it is. It tends to be a low trust environment, which is very sad. And I think what you seem to be talking about in terms of the way that you’re planning to work is to provide this accompaniment [00:33:00] so that you’re minding people’s backs and you’re supporting them and providing them with enhanced agency.

But it’s also to provide a brokering role where you reduce that information asymmetry so there’s information smoothing so both parties know more about each other. By knowing more about each other, you’re boosting trust, boosting knowledge, boosting understanding and hopefully arriving at better quality work which delivers more on the actual needs of the clients rather than perhaps their performative needs, the needs that they think they need because they think they’re behaving in a commercial world. So they think they need to behave in a certain way because that’s what commercial people do. So I think there’s a lot of kind of almost acting out that goes on in the construction of terms of reference and the construction of contracts on both sides that people are in performance mode.

So what it seems to me is that kind of almost behind what you’re saying, and tell me if I’ve got this wrong, behind what you’re saying is, come on, let’s get real here, what’s actually needed to drive forward development and let’s return to our real values about why we came to the sector in the first place.

Let’s behave ethically to each other and [00:34:00] call it out if that’s not happening. Do you think, have I got it right?

Kate Newman: No, I think you’ve completely nailed it. I think there’s so much money that is spent on consultancy. And why would you invest that money if you’re not going to make it valuable, I suppose.

And I’m not saying that, there’s lots of really good consultants and good consultancy that happens today. But it is better where there is that strong relationship of trust and you really can get to the heart of the matter, focus on the change that’s needed, not what’s on a piece of paper, where you build ownership so that the organisation takes forward what you’ve recommended.

I don’t know how many people feel they’ve written a consultancy report that gets gold star when it’s first read by the organisation, but results in no change at all. And I know I’ve had that experience as a consultant and it offers such an opportunity for stronger organisation. So let’s make the most of the opportunity that’s there, and let’s think about the role that we can play as a values driven organisation to really help broker that relationship, to really focus on the things that are important, on the [00:35:00] trust that’s needed, so that you can be honest, you can be reflective, and you can learn.

Kate Bird: Thank you. And you’ve talked a bit already about how INTRAC came into being with a certain vision and a certain set of values, and then it almost lost its way for a while because of commercial pressures and the realities of maintaining an organisation and funding an organisation and needing to follow what the funders were wanting.

So it became difficult to maintain momentum in what you’d hoped to achieve as an organisation. Looking forwards over the next five years, how do you think this transformative process that you’re engaging with is going to affect your core team of INTRAC that you’ve spoken about, these 20 people who are currently based in the UK?

What do you imagine happening to the organisation in terms of staffing, funding and activities over the next five years?

Kate Newman: So this is another question, which, when I looked at it, I thought I don’t have probably I don’t have the standard answer that you would expect a CEO to have. Because what we’re doing with this [00:36:00] new strategy is setting out an intention and a sense of direction.

And an expectation and a wish of where we’ll get to, but we’re also saying that this is a big process of transformation for us. And we need to take a sort of innovative, agile, test and learn type approach and really work out what to pay attention to now, which will help inform our process of change and also where we get to and core in that is that we have said that we want to become more network led and network minded and really service this network, but it doesn’t exist at the moment.

So if we said too much about what the center of the hubs or whichever language we use looks like now, it would be defined by us as 20 sitting in the UK, rather than defined by our members. So instead we want to work in a way that builds and catalyzes their membership and their sort of action as part of the network and enables them to define what we become.

And we expect in five years time those questions to be [00:37:00] answered, but we don’t intend to answer them in the first couple of years, because we think until we’ve got the network, the power relations are such that we’d be over influential and not responsive enough. So we’re putting quite a lot of attention into how we do that test and learn and that being really deliberate and really intentional and what we want to pay attention to, and I mentioned before, so there’s two sets of organisational culture and practice, or organisational muscle we talk about, that we would really want to develop. One is around our sort of deep understanding of equity, diversity, and inclusivity.

What does that mean in every interaction that we have? How can we properly listen and learn and understand the needs of these consultants that work in very different contexts, that might communicate in very different ways, that will have different level of trust with us? If we’re really open to their different ways of thinking, how do we then build together?

And so really problematising that, I guess, in terms of our culture, but seeing that as part of our building relationships. And then the other side is this [00:38:00] curiosity, doubt and reflexivity, how we become curious as individuals, have doubt in some of our old assumptions about what quality looks like or what a consultancy process looks like, and then really active in that reflexivity to make sense of what we’ve opened up and been curious about and how we build that back in to our way of behaving and acting. So it’s taking those two approaches to shift our culture. I’m not sure what that means quite in terms of staffing. I imagine that we’ll be smaller in terms of central staff in five years time, but that might not be the case, our hope is that we will move at the moment with 90 percent consultancy funded, about half of that consultancy is delivered by staff and about half by our global network. We’re hopeful that in five years time, we’d be about 40 percent consultancy funded and that we would have network services that people paid for, that we’d have some grant money that maybe would invest in some of the [00:39:00] research and learning side of things, that our training offer will grow and develop because we see at the moment our training is mainly for civil society members in international and local organisations, but we’re seeing consultants as also part of that training offer.

So if we could grow that, that would be another income stream.

Kate Bird: Thank you. That sounds a very interesting and dynamic approach to change. And I really like what you’ve said about being network led and the network will define what we become. So you can’t state it now. And Nompilo just wanted to come in there. So Nompilo over to you for a moment.

Nompilo Ndlovu: I want to further complicate the previous question and absolutely agree with you that you won’t have the answer now. We may have it in five years time. But as you were talking about what kind of staffing, what kind of activities the next five years look like, what kind of funding.

I also started to question what old assumptions we have about the kind of skill sets that we hire when we’re thinking about development work, when we’re thinking about working with consultants, and it’s just interesting to start to think of if we have an out of the vision [00:40:00] view of what development work is going to grow and look like, then surely that person who studied development studies, for example, or understands the socioeconomic world with dynamics isn’t even necessarily built for the kind of vision that you’re talking about. If you start to talk about DEI work and everything else, you start to think of more mental health practitioners in such a space increasingly. And so I was just trying to say that there’s just a whole intuition and a new set of skill sets and way of doing things that will even impact the way that we start institutions like this in the future and also the kind of activities that we would do. So I don’t expect an answer. I was wondering, I know you thought you would work with the leaner staff. I even think you would work with a totally different skill set of people to what we work with now.

Kate Newman: Yeah. We’re thinking about diversifying our workforce because we’re not very diverse at the moment. And I think that will be something that we really actively think about. When we’re saying diversify our workforce, what do we mean in terms of identity markers? But also what do we mean in terms of skills and mindset that are going to help build this culture in the organisation? But also a [00:41:00] lot of our staff are consultants that have been working with organisations for much of their career, taking our sort of values driven approach to consultancy.

So I think because that approach is now coming back inside our organisation and thinking about our own development, I think a lot of them do have the skills and the ways of thinking that are really going to help us develop that culture. So it will be a bit interactive, I guess.

Kate Bird: So interesting. Thank you, Kate. And it’s kind of time to finish up here. We’ve run out of time. So, Kate, thank you so much for joining us today. We’ve covered a lot of ground and I feel I’ve learned a lot about INTRAC and the way that you’re approaching this process of dynamic change.

And I’m hoping to keep an eye on what you do and what goes on in the next couple of years, because it sounds really interesting. And I think you’re creating a model for action in terms of consultants in the sector. So, I’m looking forward to taking this conversation to other people working in consultancy in the sector and asking them some similar questions and seeing if they’ve done the deep thinking that you and INTRAC have done already.

And if [00:42:00] not, perhaps that creates another pillar of work for you and your colleagues to do in terms of sharing the love across the sector. But, to finish up, perhaps you could identify a practical step for practical action that our listeners and viewers can take to shift power, instill anti racist approaches and decolonisation in the way that they work in development and humanitarian action.

Kate Newman: Yeah, so I actually want to say two things, if that’s okay. One thing is, I hope that your listeners will pay attention to INTRAC’s transformation, because as you’ll have heard through my answers to some of the questions, while we’re clear about where we’d like to get to, we’re also aware that it is quite a big transformation and it can’t be overdefined.

And we want to take this sort of test and learn approach and then be actively communicating our learning. And we’re talking about as an organisation being bold and radical in terms of where we want to get to, but incrementally radical, I suppose, and evolutionary in terms of how we get there.

And I’m hoping that your listeners will pay attention [00:43:00] to our journey and that will spark thinking in their own practice. But the other thing that I thought everyone could do, and this goes back to the conversation we were having earlier, is really think about what you’re looking for in any commissioned consultancy work, and think about how you’ll find the right person.

What sort of role profiles are you developing? Where are you advertising? How are you supporting people from non traditional or dominant culture backgrounds to hear about the work? Are you valuing diversity in your teams? All of those arguments that you might have learned from anti racist recruitment, I think, could feed into how you approach consultancy work.

And it might be that you think a piece of consultancy is just a short piece of work, consultants come and go. But if you’re thinking about the wider ecosystem, and how your individual piece of work can contribute to transformational change in that ecosystem, then I think you could maybe take different decisions, think about different financial implications and ask yourself, can you afford to invest in a sustainable ecosystem of localised consultancy and civil [00:44:00] society support? And how does that help your wider organisational mission and therefore what first step can you take?

Kate Bird: Fantastic. Thank you, Kate. I think recognising the messy and incremental approach to arriving at radical destinations is a healthy, and as you’ve said, reflective approach to creating change. And as I said before, I’m really looking forward to keeping an eye on what INTRAC does over the next few years and seeing how you’re working with your international network of consultants and developing a community of practice around that.

So thank you very much for joining us. Thank you from me and over to you Nompilo to say the final goodbye.

Nompilo Ndlovu: You have left so many nuggets and so much food. And I wish in fact the very best in what is a very ambitious, but also quite achievable, goal because of the fact that it’s ethical. Thank you so much for sharing your insights with us.

Kate Newman: Thank you. Thank you both.

This weeks guest:

Kate Newman, INTRAC CEO

Kate has worked in international development for over 25 years, as part of local civil society in Mexico, for large international NGOs (ActionAid and Christian Aid), as an independent consultant and an academic; she joined INTRAC as CEO in April 2022.  Throughout all these roles she has championed the importance of participatory and rights-based approaches; focused on understanding and shifting power, listening to, and learning from the knowledge, insights, perspectives and aspirations of people living in poverty, collaborating to ensure these knowledges are influential for development policy and practice.  She describes herself as a feminist and anti-racist and works to ensure her leadership approach builds from these commitments.

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